Latin American Connection
Capitalizing on Concerns
Juan Carlos Murillo likes to say that south Florida's real estate agents owe Hugo Ch?vez a big, fat referral fee. Murillo wrote more than $20-million worth of deals in south Florida last year, 90% of those with Venezuelan investors worried about the political climate at home. The other 10%, he says, were with investors from Peru, Argentina and Ecuador, all warily watching neo-populist political trends in those countries.
"People love their country, but they need to spread their risk," says Murillo.
Over the past year, Latin American investment in south Florida's condos considerably softened the blow of the housing downturn, says Kimberly Kirschner, of Hollywood-based Kirschner Realty International. Political and economic instability in Latin America long have led investors to south Florida, she says. In recent years, investors from Venezuela and Colombia have shown intense interest in Florida, while Argentina and Brazil have succeeded in wooing investors back to their own countries.
While left-wing movements in Latin America bring uncertainty to the business outlook long term, real estate is one of several industries that fare better and better the worse the political situation becomes. Murillo and colleagues who are lawyers, CPAs and bankers travel to Venezuela every 45 days to conduct seminars called "How to Do Business with the United States of America," consistently filling 200 available spots. When, earlier this year, it looked as if neopopulist candidate Ollanta Humala might win the presidency of Peru, Murillo's group came into demand in Lima. "Business people there were quite worried," Murillo says. "We ended up doing two seminars in Lima, I think because of the lefty presidential candidate." Florida agents are doing more to tap foreign investors, who now make up 15% of the $264-billion market statewide, says Nancy Macaluso, a Palm Beach Gardens Realtor who chairs the Florida Association of Realtors' international committee. This year, for the first time, the association brought delegates from El Salvador, Colombia and Nicaragua to explain how real estate works in Latin America. The association also will lobby Congress to reform immigration laws to allow Latin Americans and other foreign nationals to more easily retire to the United States.
Juan Carlos Murillo was a real estate attorney in Venezuela who came to Miami on an H-1B professional visa in 1998 to shield his wife and two children from escalating crime and economic instability in their country. It was a lucrative move. Murillo, who is a month shy of his 40th birthday, says he wrote more than $20 million in real estate contracts in south Florida last year, 90% of those with Venezuelan nationals.